Saturday, May 13, 2017

ABCs 'Once Upon A Time' Renewed But Without Most of Its Star-Regulars (+ a Limited Retrospective)

Once again, Once Upon A Time is going for an official "reset," heading into its just renewed seventh season. Unlike (yet) another curse, everyone ending up in opposite land, everyone losing their memory again or some other variation on how it all began, the big difference this time around will be that only three of the main series stars will remain.

Those are Regina, Rumpelstiltskin and Captain Hook.

Those who are won't be returning are:

            (details/statements of their exits at the links)

Here is the creator's official statement on each of the (secondary) actors, their characters and their exiting the show (Jennifer Morrison's exit was dealt with separately):
Words can’t do justice to what Ginny, Josh, Emilie, Rebecca and Jared brought to ONCE UPON A TIME… but we’ll try… never have we had the privilege of working with a more talented group of collaborators. Each brought unique talent, incredible intelligence, and their own individual bit of magic as they gave life to these iconic characters. 
Ginny reinvented Snow White for a modern audience – there was no way she would be stuck cleaning up after dwarfs, she created an iconic empowered heroine for the 21st century. 
Josh mined the depths of Prince Charming – a character who in myth was just a “type” but in his superlative interpretation became a complex man fighting for love and family. 
Emilie took the character of Belle to a deep and soulful place, bringing great intelligence and warmth to the character, making her fiercely independent, strong willed but also an eternal optimist who saw only the best in all those she encountered. 
Rebecca took us on a broomstick roller coaster ride as she re-invented the Wicked Witch of the West by finding the pain beneath the green. She made the character soar to incredible heights while always keeping her grounded and relatable. 
And Jared literally grew up before the eyes of millions, from a child actor with enormous innate talent to a young man whose abilities continue to astound as he created a character who truly, as we say on the show, has the heart of the truest believer.

We can’t thank them enough for the hard work, dedication, and passion they delivered day in and day out. Without them there would be no ONCE UPON A TIME. 
As ONCE continues, this group will always be the beating heart of the show. And even though we won’t be with them every week, in a show about magic and hope, we fervently believe it won’t be the last we see of them.
Jennifer Morrison has agreed for a single episode appearance to help transition out her character, who has been the lead of the show since the beginning.

A new character/actor expected to draw new viewers and keep old ones, is The Walking Dead‘s Andrew J. West, who will be appearing in the two hour season finale this Sunday.
Joining West is Jane the Virgin’s Alison Fernandez, who has been cast as “a precocious 10-year-old with a constant twinkle of mischief in her eye…[who] comes from a broken home, [with] struggles that have only made her stronger — something which will come in handy when darkness threatens everything she holds dear.” (TVLine)
As to what is meant by a "reset", or more specifically "springboard the narrative in a new direction", it has seemed very undecided right up till today's announcement (at the time of writing the post), with the President letting it slip that creators Kitsis and Horowitz were 'still finalizing their pitch'. Whatever the case, it's not even clear if the fairy tale aspect will remain intact, or if it will be in the same universe and belong to the same 'show mythology' as the rest of OUAT.
Kitsis & Horowitz: "We are going to complete some stories this year. There’s one chapter to this book that Henry has, so maybe it’s time for us to get to the end of that chapter. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a second book and a second chapter, just like in everyone’s life.” (TVSeriesFinale) 
(ABCs Entertainment President) Dungey declined to comment whether that “next piece” would be a different incarnation of Once, a spinoff or a something else. But it’s clear that the series, which has reinvented itself a number of times, may be heading for its biggest reinvention yet as the show’s main storyline comes to an end this season. “There will be a little bit of closure in this particular narrative regardless of what happens with Season 7.” (Deadline)
With Kitsis and Horowitz, who previously created Lost, and are known for their looping and repetitive storylines (with variations), Once Upon A Time has already had more than its fair share of reboots, and the storylines for all the main characters have run a much longer course than they probably would have (should have?) on any other show, so the big fear is that a) season seven won't be anything like OUAT at all or b) that it will be the agonizing death of OUAT, as opposed to going out strongly with this last musical, wedding and two part final battle.

The bright spot for fairy tale folk is that is will still have the title Once Upon A Time - a phrase that is difficult NOT to associate with fairy tales, so some aspect of that is very likely to remain part of the new format and direction.

Although we have been critical of Once Upon A Time over its course, we do want to acknowledge just what a fantastic and creative job they've done in persisting on rewriting familiar stories and fairy tale narratives, and archetypes, in different lights. Not only that, the tally of characters introduced is HUGE (one day we will have to list them) and the series regulars, whose stories continue through multiple arcs and variations, number quite a large ensemble - not an easy feat to combine while keeping the 'mythology' intact. These characters have not only explored their traditional stories (usually Disney-based) but had them twisted, re-visioned from different points of view, often in combination with other fairy tale characters, which sheds a different light on them again, and sometimes they've explored other fairy tale plots as part of their own journey as well. Some of these have worked better than others, as is the case with any show with a huge variety of characters and storylines, but it's also been extremely creative and woken up a lot of people to the possibilities of fairy tales, including how their own lives can be reflected in them. As much as it's been difficult - as serious fairy tale students and enthusiasts - to watch from time to time, things will be very different without a series that regularly brings adults fairy tale characters regularly to the screen.

Here we should note the Once Upon A Time In Wonderland spin-off as well. Though not as successful as expected, we believe people will look back and realize there are many gems to be mined from that adventure as well. There has also been a foray into 'The Land of Untold Stories' as a main arc - again, something that felt a little awkward at the time, but looking back will prove an interesting study.

The show looked at storytelling, often literally, with an 'author' and a magic pen changing the tales and people's lives in the process, and the mysterious book of fairy tales first given by Snow White to Henry is an anchor and pivot point for many plots of the series. It went to the 'real' world (of New York) and back again, visited the Underworld, and other dimensions in addition to Wonderland, such as Oz, Agrabah, Neverland - even the ins and outs of Fairyland (which are different to the Enchanted Forest) - and many others, connecting them all in bizarre and creative ways. So often the show was meta, both in terms of the tales and characters used, as well as its 'parent' (Disney), but also with regard to writing and retelling tales. The production images created with liberal use of fantasy settings, elaborate costumes, use of magic items in the storylines, archetypes and CG have inspired thousands of people to create their own narratives and 'image stories' and will forever remain a part of fairy tales to come. That aspect is possibly one of the most successful outcomes of the show - it encourages and inspires people to create their own stories. One day there will be a lot to sit down, look at, and, yes, study.

Just take a look at the variety of characters and worlds OUAT has explored, just by way of the variety of promotional posters we've included here (there are many more as well). These only highlight the largest arcs and it's still an impressive array.



The oddest thing is that it's been another year since Kitsis and Horowitz let it slip that they were "running out of fairy tales heroes and villains to work with", (their words) which explains the dive into mythology and legends, as well as classic literature these past couple of years. We do find it odd that they seem to think there's no fairy tales left to work with though! There are literally thousands to choose from and out of those many (many!) that enjoy popularity in society beyond Disney - that is, they're familiar stories the show could tap into. (Hey OUAT folks - we know a bunch of people who can help with that!) 

What that means for a reboot and a 'change in narrative direction', is... not something that inspires confidence in continuing, or in a spin-off, but we do know that OUAT has charmed enough folks, even if they're not tuning in faithfully with each new episode, to be more than a little curious to see what happens next. Season six promises to wrap up the storylines playing out since the beginning and to bring 'satisfying closure' for fans in the two hour finale for which the musical/wedding episode last week was the prelude. Will hanging in there to bring the show back for another season pay off though? We'll just have to wait and see.

They do tend to say that "all reboots come with a price".
As per the show's main theme, however, we choose HOPE.
Don't forget: the two-hour season finale - which the creators have promised will wrap all the main storylines of the whole series to-date, is TOMORROW:
Sunday, May 14th 8pm ABC
(7pm Central), 2017

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